Legislators lashed out at a planned visit to Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) involving former premiers and senior officials of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), calling it President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) attempt to escalate tensions and create international strife as the new government prepares to take power later this month.
The 30-member delegation, most of them senior KMT politicians, including former premiers Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) and Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村), as well as former National Security Council secretary-generals Su Chi (蘇起) and Hu Wei-jen (胡為真), along with an entourage of national security and military officers, are scheduled to board a C-130 transport plane from Pingtung Air Base to Itu Aba today.
Deputy Minister of National Defense Cheng De-mei (鄭德美) said the visit would underscore Taiwan’s sovereignty claim in the South China Sea and show the government’s commitment to administering the island with permanent residency of civilians and coast guard personnel.
During questioning at a meeting of the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee yesterday, Cheng and other officials said that they were only told of the visit in the past few days, at a meeting convened by the National Security Council, and that they had to comply by providing C-130 aircraft transport, accompanied by an air force fighter escort, to Itu Aba, and assign military personnel to protect the delegation.
Cheng did not deny the council was acting on instructions from Ma and officials in the Presidential Office, saying the ministry was only following orders by preparing transportation and logistics for the trip.
Cheng added that the Coast Guard Administration is responsible for security during the visit, not the defense ministry, since Itu Aba is garrisoned by the coast guard.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Liu Shih-fang (劉世芳) said that in her understanding, nearly all the officials in the delegation are senior KMT members, so the visit was being made for the KMT’s political interests, rather than national sovereignty.
“We also wonder if this group of KMT officials have an agenda of working in concert with China, on behalf of the Chinese government’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea,” she added.
Liu said that with less than 20 days left before Ma’s term ends the new DPP government under president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) takes over, Ma was trying to pour fuel into the fire in trouble spots to make problems for the incoming government.
“So in the coming days, we might see such groups of officials visit the Okinotori atoll — claimed by Japan, in a recent fishery dispute — and dashing to Pengjia Islet [彭佳嶼] and to other outlying islets with claims disputed by other countries,” Liu said.
Liu said such actions did not conform to the defense ministry’s mandate to protect the nation and safeguard peace, and that the military should serve the nation, not the political interests of the KMT.
Pointing to military build-ups in the South China Sea by Vietnam, the Philippines, China and other countries, DPP Legislator Wang Ting-yu (王定宇) said Ma is doing the opposite of his promise to seek regional stability and promote peace initiatives in the region.
“Ma and his KMT friends are orchestrating a big show with aircraft and military personnel to land on these islands. They are making provocative moves, to heighten the tension in the region,” Wang said.
An extemporaneous motion was proposed and approved by committee members to freeze the budget for the ministry to fund the visit.
“We see it as a private visit, planned by Ma for people connected with the KMT and holding senior party positions. The trip to Taiping Island has high costs in terms of aircraft fuel, the mobilization of coast guard and military personnel, fighter jet escorts, ships to deliver supplies and other expenditures. Therefore, these KMT officials should pay the bills themselves. The coast guard and defense ministry should not foot the bill for them. That is the purpose for approving this motion,” DPP Legislator Tsai Shih-ying (蔡適應) said.
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